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Synopsis:

Starlight Glimmer and Trixie are heading out to the Changelings’ Hive to give Thorax a surprise visit and encouragement with his duties as their leader, but soon after arrival are attacked and captured by a particularly vicious and aggressive Changeling still in his “monstrous” form. On being brought before Thorax and released, he explains that Changeling is his brother Pharynx and is the only remaining Changeling who has refused to accept the new way of life and metamorphosis. Pharynx hates the new way of Changeling life, accusing of it having made the Changelings soft, weak, and defenseless against attackers, and is constantly expressing his hate through outright hostility to the other Changelings. As a result, the entire hive (except Thorax) wants him kicked out to not have to deal with his aggression and demeanor. Starlight and Trixie make an attempt to reach out to Pharynx, but he only responds with insults and threats, and as a result in what they think is a private meeting they reason that what’s best is if Thorax assents to the hive’s demands before not doing so undermines his authority. Yet when they go to tell Thorax the news, he shares how, in spite of his hostile and fight-prone nature, as a nymph, even though he always thought Thorax was too soft, Pharynx genuinely did care about him and wouldn’t let the other Changelings pick on him. This prompts Starlight to get the idea to disrupt Thorax’s plan to lead a Dread Maulwurf, a massive monster that has been lured to the hive ever since they allowed plants to start growing there again, away from the hive and instead straight to it so that Pharynx can save the day and prompt him and the hive to reconcile. Unfortunately, Pharynx was changed into a boulder during Starlight and Trixie’s discussion and left the hive of his own accord, so not only is the hive unprotected but Pharynx is now out on his own with the monster abroad. Thorax, Starlight, and Trixie run out to find him, only to find him battling the Dread Maulwurf alone. The three jump in and are soon joined by the rest of the hive, but due to being out of practice they are unable to win, so Pharynx instead works with Thorax to trick the monster into hitting itself with its own attacks, until it’s beaten up enough to retreat. Following the encounter, Pharynx grudgingly admits to the whole hive the reason he attacked the Maulwurf alone was that, in spite of how much he dislikes how the Changelings have changed, he still cares about them although he hates expressing it. This, in turn, gets the other Changelings to admit that they still want him around on realizing that they still have a need to defend themselves even if they aren’t “picking fights” anymore, and they’re ready to welcome him back. The mutual understanding allows Pharynx to metamorphosis into a “lesser” King Changeling himself, and Starlight, facing Thorax’s angry glares at how she nearly doomed the hive through her plan, quickly asks Pharynx to relate the tale of how he used to make Thorax “hit himself” to divert attention.

Review:

This is another one of those episodes I liked more than most of the fandom, or so I get the impression. To me, it’s another notable achievement for MLP:FIM; namely that it was gutsy enough to handle a subject that both adults and children are increasingly being called to consider “open and shut, end of discussion”.

I get the sense that a lot of fans are still rather ambivalent toward “the new Changelings”. We’re nearly to the point where we’ve seen more of them in their current status than we have when they were still monsters, but even so there’s still an amount of “adjustment” on the part of the audience. People have talked about how Sunset Shimmer changed so much that she’s practically a different character, but it’s hard to imagine the “nice” Changelings ever having been anything like their monster versions. Not just due to the pleasant and colorful designs, but their “cute” voices that sound like Smurfs, their almost child-like and innocent demeanor, and their more “pony way of acting”. There’s a number of moments in this episode in which Changelings actually get angry, and yet even those seem more subdued and gentle. The change was both rather sharp and dramatic. It’s sort of understandable, nevertheless. Thorax is the only Changeling who was pretty much the same “before and after”, but with his character that made sense. The other Changelings who underwent metamorphosis might have undergone internal as well as external changes to become essentially a different species. Nevertheless, in doing this, the show eliminated the one species they could have used as “fodder villains” (similar to how JRR Tolkien created orcs just to be fodder for army battles), and some fans may wonder why we need the Changeling race at all anymore. I don’t mind them myself, especially if it keeps Thorax in the show. There’s still ambivalence to him too, but I like him because, like I said, one of the few male regulars.

As I said before, I like the Starlight/Trixie dynamic, but in this episode I can understand how people who don’t really care for Trixie might have disliked it. Trixie didn’t really have anything to contribute to this episode other than to bounce dialogue off of Starlight, so most of her entertainment value came from her “being Trixie”. If you don’t go for that sort of thing, yeah, I can see how this episode might have gotten on your nerves. As I do, I thought it was ok.

Yet what really stands out to me in this episode is the moral. Most children shows that try to “teach lessons” teach good ones but, occasionally, when confronted with a difficult topic in which the lesson could be somewhat ambiguous opt for the “easy answer”. MLP:FIM seems to be doing that a lot with villains, in that in most cases it’s possible to win without a straight fight, instead usually befriending them or reforming them in some way. The show is called “friendship is magic”, so it makes sense that this would usually work. However, it won’t always work, especially in real life. To paraphrase Asriel Dreemurr in “Undertale”, you won’t always be able to solve your problems by “being nice”. And that’s something that was rather refreshingly realistic in this episode. As I mentioned in “Triple Threat”, King Thorax is the polar opposite of Queen Chrysalis in how he decides to rule the Changelings. It makes him a better ruler, but not necessarily the best ruler, although unlike her he’s willing to change and improve how he does things. Yet for right now, his idea of being gentle and pursuing things like flowers, plants, and art is better in most situations, but not all.

As was expressed in the Friends Forever issue of Prince Blueblood & Shining Armor, just because an individual is personally a jerk doesn’t make them “wrong” about certain things. Pharynx was definitely a jerk in this one, going out of his way to be hostile not only to Starlight and Trixie but to his own hive. But not only, deep down inside, did he care, he was also right in the end. The Changelings had gotten too soft. They needed to maintain some of their fighting instincts for personal protection.

The problem is how the Changelings reacted. Rather than compromise, they were so opposed to the idea of maintaining any level of battle-readiness that they simply fixated all on Pharynx’s behavior. They treated this as akin to wanting to become vicious and warlike again and maintained that not being vicious and warlike is identical to not having any threats to look out for. Most of all, they said a key phrase…that having Pharynx around makes them “uncomfortable”.

This is a reflection of how American society is starting to react nowadays. Pundits and political groups make everything one of two choices, especially on the Internet. They keep looking at one person’s stance and then go immediately to a straw man. They keep refusing to see any validity in the other person’s viewpoint. Instead, now we’re beginning to treat even the existence of a divergent viewpoint as itself being an act of aggression or even hate. People are acting more and more like the Changelings in this episode and trying to alter society such that discussion of alternate views is itself intolerable and banned from public, and that one who does have an alternate view should not even be allowed in society. My dad went to the YMCA for over twenty years for weightlifting, donating money and equipment to them and even having his name put on the wall as one of their contributors. He was banned from it because he wore a Trump shirt and the people working there didn’t like having to look at it. Surveys are showing more and more young voters believe Freedom of Speech should not be allowed on certain topics. These things should scare people and scare them a lot.

So all in all, I thought this was one of the better episodes to address that, and I compliment it for doing so. While in general I felt the second half of Season Seven wasn’t as good as the first, this was one of the higher points and better lessons.

Fun Facts:

This episode was a milestone although many fans didn’t realize it. This is the first episode not to feature a single character from the series pilot. However, Ashleigh Ball (Rainbow Dash & Applejack) still provides voices for a couple of the Changelings.

On the second viewing, I noticed Thorax does have a throne. It’s made of trees, obviously. (Apparently plants are filled with lots of love and feeding on love kills them…?)

I always thought it was weird that Thorax calls out Pharynx specifically as his “brother” when, based on what we saw back in “The Times They Are a Changeling”, it looks like pretty much all of them should be siblings based on coming from the same mother and clutch of eggs.

During Starlight’s speech to the Changelings, you really get to see their diversity. Not all have “wing tails”, some have different wing coverlets, and some are virtually identical to Thorax except lacking extra horns. The speech itself is somewhat similar in presentation to the infamous “Braveheart” speech, with Starlight continuously moving back and forth to hit everyone.

Similar to “Triple Threat”, this episode confirms that Changelings take on physical characteristics of what they turn into, making them rather dangerous when they want to be.

The Dread Maulwurf’s unusual nose is similar to the Star-Nosed Mole.

While Pharynx transformed also looks like a “King Changeling” and he’s taller than other Changelings, he’s smaller than Thorax with shorter horns. In other words, Thorax and Pharynx have the same design dynamic as Celestia and Luna…only Pharynx is the “older” sibling.

Rating:

3.5 Stars out of 5